“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfector of our faith.” -Hebrews 12:1,2
Prior to joining the BYX National Staff in 2013, I worked in the world of education. I spent many years as a teacher and coach in an inner-city school before eventually becoming the principal of middle school with a large percentage of students that the state considered “at-risk.” I have many stories to share about the 10 years I spent working in the hood, but one sticks out as I think about the passage above where Paul exhorts us to run our race with endurance.
One year my school asked me to coach the cross-country team, which is kind of like asking Johnny Manziel to lead the church choir. I didn’t know a thing about long-distance running, much less how to coach others. I begrudgingly offered to take the job with no guarantees of success. And then I did what any good football coach would do; I forced my best athletes to run on my cross-country team.
I’ll never forget that first meet. I drove the bus to each of their houses since they could not get a ride to school. I intentionally did not show them what they would have to wear because I knew that would have been a deal breaker. It wasn’t until we arrived at the course that I handed out their uniforms.
Words can’t express the looks on their faces when they put those bad boys on. I remember one of them looked at me with a genuinely sad face and said, “Coach, I aint’ never seen my knees before.” Making these incredibly athletic kids from the hood wear those short shorts was humiliating for them, but they trusted me and were ready to compete. So they pushed past their humiliation.
We immediately piled out of the bus and headed to the starting line. The funny thing was, these guys were preparing for this race as if it were a football or basketball game. All the other runners were chill. Not my guys. They were HYPE. I had a feeling it wasn’t going to go well for us, but I was as eager as everyone else was to see how these guys with body types of sprinters would stack up against their much less muscular competition.
If it was a fight, my guys would have absolutely cleaned house. But this wasn’t a fight; it was a race. And not just any race, for if it was a sprint no one would have been able to touch my team, but this was a long distance race, which requires a completely different mentality and skill set.
When the gun finally went off, you can probably guess what happened. My guys took off like they were shot from that same gun. It was hilarious. As much as I tried to coach them up and tell them to pace themselves, instinct just took over. At the pace the leaders were running they could have set a new 5K world record but one thing was clear, they would not be able to keep that pace. It was just a matter of time before each one of them faded or hit the proverbial wall.
One by one they started dropping like flies. Soon nearly all of them were walking, huffing and puffing as they watched the other competitors pass them. There was one guy named Fred who somehow just kept running. He was so far out in front of the pack that for a few minutes I thought to myself, “he may actually win this thing.” But sure enough, he too ran out of gas and the leaders of the pack that were actually appropriately trained for this type of race caught up to him and passed him by. He managed to finish near the front despite walking the last quarter of the race.
I think it was a good experience for those guys. They learned that day that it’s not always the fastest guy who wins the race. When it comes to long distances, speed is no match for endurance.
I think that is what Paul is referring to in this passage. He exhorts us to run our race with endurance. The Christian life is much more like a marathon than a sprint. When we put our hands to the plough of the kingdom, we need to have a long-term view in mind.
I know many dear friends who ran hard in their race for a season, many of them in college, who are no longer running. Many of them have slowed to a walk and are weighed down by sin and many other weights that keep them bound up and unable to run. Some have even disqualified themselves with terrible decisions to leave their families for lessor things.
And then there are others, whom I strive to be, who seem to just gain speed with time. As they grow older, they seem to run their race with a greater sense of purpose and effectiveness. This is what I think Paul is aiming at in Hebrews 12 when he tells us to run with endurance.
I challenge you guys to run your race well. Run with all your heart this semester. Run with a long-term view of the race in mind. God has set the race before you. He knows every mountain you have to climb and every valley that you must descend into. Lay aside everything that is holding you back from running your race.
And as you run, look to Jesus as the author and perfector of your faith who, for the joy that was set before him endured the cross on your behalf. Lay aside what is behind you and run in such a way that you may win and that you might receive the prize of call of God in Christ Jesus. I promise you this. The reward is worth the sacrifice.
“I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it, yet one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on, I pursue, I run toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 3:13
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, be we an imperishable.” 1 Corinthians 9:24,25